Out west of Vega, on one of the private ranches, there’s a slight dip in a landscape, summer arid, red soil, scrub mesquite. You’ve meandered along in an almost hypnotic state, land and sky stretching interminably ahead, but your yellow note pad says it’s here somewhere. The subtle incline, the modest sandstone formation.
If you’re alone, the stillness and space may inhabit you. With friends, voices echo a bit, then disappear. Either way, this seems an unlikely place for water and for the giant cisterns, likely water catchers, which lie ahead.
Cut deep into the solid gray formation, smoothed by wind and water so that you can sense an ease over them were you walking barefoot, are numerous caverns. These are what archaeologists call “solution cavities,” in this case rain catchers for a perennially parched world.
How would nomadic native people have found them even after their creation? To you, the features of the landscape simply repeat themselves. But you look around and discover something else your notepad alerts you to: a deeply cut bison trail running to and from the cistern site. Animal trail, hence human trail.
Nothing will do but you must climb down in. This is how large the cavities are. Grown man high, with room to spare. In amazement, you see, though dimly, you are surrounded by diamond shaped figures with heads and spread hands, incised into the walls. Shaman, you think, the apparent fingertips extended sparkler-like. Your heart rate seems to slow, sensing another time.
Shamans protect, they guard, they anoint. Even in this red-boned land, they signify something sacred. Are they calling forth the waters or watching over them when they fall?
We’ll never really know the meaning of these sparked hands, the place, its mysteries. But somehow in our world of the two Orlando’s, one entertainment, one unspeakably horrific, we do seek shelter. It appears the old order cannot hold, fiery fingers emanating ancient power or not. And we cannot hide away in cisterns.
We are left with what many people fleeing violence, trying to understand it, prevent it may discover: we may seek the high places within when they appear decimated from without–that other place of stillness, space, and yes, shamans.